A story of Exodus returns home


PUTNEY -- When Merima Kljuco was composing "The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book," earlier this year in the studios of Yellow Barn in Putney, she wanted to use ancient Sephardic melodies while creating a modern piece of music that tells the story of exodus and arrival.

Kljuco's piece played to three sold out shows in Putney in the spring and it has since been performed in Boston, Dallas and San Francisco.

Kljuco, a Bosnian-born concert accordionist and composer, returns to Putney for two special performances Saturday, June 14, at Next Stage.

Joined on stage by Yellow Barn Artistic Director Seth Knopp, who worked with Kljuco on the piece, and under the video art of Bart Woodstrup, "The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book" is a time bending journey that brings the audience face to face with art, heroism, violence and redemption that extend through centuries and cultures.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is one of the oldest surviving Sephardic Haggadahs in the world. It was probably written in Barcelona around 1350 and it has been transported across nations and hidden from armies and police who were hunting and persecuting Jews in Spain, Italy and Yugoslavia.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is especially prized for its illuminated drawings that are highlighted in copper and gold. It is housed in the National Museum of Sarajevo.

Kljuco was 18, and she was living in Sarajevo, during the siege in 1992. She was forced out of her country when she had to leave for a refugee camp.

"I am fascinated by the Sarajevo Haggadah not only because of its amazing and fascinating history, but also because it reminds me of my own life and exodus I had to experience," she said. "The Haggadah in its journey suffered transformations which make it even more special by giving it a richer history that reflects its passage through different cultures. I also travel around the world and with every journey I get a new scar, positive or negative, but I keep my dignity and get richer by traveling through different circumstances, and sharing culture with others through my music."

Kljuco was aware of the Sarajevo Haggadah while growing up in Bosnia, but she became more familiar with the book's rich history four years ago after a friend gave her a copy of the Geraldine Brooks historical novel, "People of the Book," which uses the Haggadah as a central plot device in the novel.

That book, she said, started a musical journey which ended in Putney in March when she completed "The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book."

Knopp said Kljuco was careful not to make the composition about her, or even about the war in the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Instead, said Knopp, Kljuco wanted to show how cultures can work together in spite of differences to save what is precious and matters most.

"All through this piece she never once made it personal," he said. "She's made it really about a looking past the things that make this kind of piece meaningful. The pain and the genocide, things she's personally gone through her self, she skips over the things that made it necessary to write this piece. It never became about her."

Woodstrup's video art adds another dimension to Kljuco's music. Using copies of the original drawings and Hebrew text from the Sarajevo Haggadah, Woodstrup manipulates the ancient pages and drenches the screen behind Kljuco and Knopp in color and texture.

"The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book" is the first Yellow Barn production that incorporates video.

Adding to the musical composition's ambitious attempt to span 500 years of history, the modern digital software sometimes rips apart the stains and pigment from the ancient book to offer a backdrop to Kljuco's haunting music.

"The challenge of the piece was to write something that could travel through so many centuries, from the 1400s until today," Knopp said. "It was quite an undertaking. I was a little puzzled, and very admiring of Merima, who had an absolute idea of how she was going to do this. She takes the Haggadah to the different countries and weaves it together into something that does seem unified."

"The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book," will be performed at Next Stage in Putney, Saturday, June 14, at 3 and 8 p.m. Visit nextstagearts.com for more information.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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